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Will human workers replace pollinating bees?

In rural China, the bees have left the building...er...the farm and it’s worse than a zombie apocalypse...it’s a Beepocalypse.

In the Sichuan province, Hanyuan county is the self-proclaimed “world’s pear capital.” To keep up with demand, farmers started using more pesticides, leading to a drastic reduction of the bee population.

Nearly bee-less, farmers are now taking over and doing the work bees once did and they’re not wearing bumble bee costumes and pretending to fly around. Instead, they're hand-pollinating flowers--and it's way more labor-intensive than you might think. 

In the coming years, populations of bees, butterflies, and other pollinating species could face extinction due to habitat loss, pollution, pesticides and climate change. Animal pollinators are economically, socially, and culturally important to the global community. Approximately $235 billion - $577 billion USD worth of annual global food production relies on direct contributions by these pollinators. Some communities have actually resorted to taking over the jobs of bees now that they're gone. Because bee extinction threatens global food supply and economics, are humans the next best thing?

Some farmers in Hanyuan county think the answer is yes for the time being, so they pollinate fruit trees artificially, but it’s not so easy and may not be so sustainable.

With a brush, workers must carefully transfer pollen from male flowers to female flowers to fertilize them.

It’s possible human pollination can actually cost less than renting bees to pollinate crops.

Say what?

A 2014 study found that depending on the size of the trees, a person can pollinate 5–10 trees a day. Talk about a backache.

In 2010 alone, farmers paid their human pollinators a daily fee of $12–19 USD, if they paid them at all, while the cost of renting a Maoxian bee colony at that time was $46.88 USD per day.

So other than it being the last resort, farmers in Hanyuan began pollinating by hand because human labor was cheaper.

But this sheds light on some very important questions:

Is hand pollination actually sustainable and just? How can this be done without exploiting workers? And, most importantly, how can the world revive global bee populations? 

The first step is using less pesticides. 

But the photographer, Kevin Frayer, who captured these photos, admits that rural China’s hand pollination may very well be your next job.

“It is entirely possible that in our lifetime this practice could become the norm all over the world,” he said.

What do you think?